"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mass Shootings in the U.S.: Why Are Americans So Angry?

Even though the United States account for less than 5% of the world’s population, 31% of the total number of mass killings worldwide between 1966 and 2012 occurred there.[1] I contend that a rise in passive aggression and the related intolerance accounts for much of the difference. In other words, it could be that Americans generally are getting nastier and more angry at each other.

Although not a mass-shooting, Vester Flanagan shot two former co-workers in August 2015. While it is easy to relegate the story by simply concluding that the guy was nuts, a closer examination reveals the situation to be more complicated. The nuances may help us understand what lies behind the mass-killing violence that goes beyond the killers themselves and is disproportionately an American phenomenon. In analyzing the Flanagan case, I want to stress that even if his coworkers had been at fault, the double-murder was completely unjustified. My analysis is oriented to uncovering a hidden trend in American society rather than answering whether the shooting is justified.

In a lawsuit against another network in 2000, Flanagan had claimed that a producer had called him a "monkey" and that he had been "made aware that other black employees ... had been called monkeys by officials affiliated with defendant." He also claimed that a Caucasian "official" had told him that "it busted her butt that blacks did not take advantage of the free money," referring to scholarship funds. Additionally, he insisted that a supervisor at the station had said that "blacks are lazy,” and that that another employee had told a black tape-operator to "stop talking ebonics." WTWC-TV acknowledged that an employee "may have made similar comments to another employee," but denied that such comments are "indicative of unlawful employment practices." The case ended in a non-disclosed settlement.[2] The admission of race-oriented comments to another employee lends some credibility to Flanagan’s assertions.

Even so, Flanagan may have made his own contribution to the workplace tension. The news station denied that his termination was the result of discrimination. It instead cited "poor performance," budgetary reasons and "misbehavior with regards to co-workers."[3] The latter in particular resonates with what he wrote regarding the cameraman (Adam) and reporter (Alison) from his next station. After announcing that he filmed the shooting, he wrote, “Adam went to hr on me after working with me one time!!!”[4] Either Adam had overreacted or Flanagan’s treatment of co-workers was incredibly bad. Flanagan also wrote, “Alison made racist comments” to him, and that he had filed an EEOC report.[5] It could be a case of “white privilege,” or simply that Alison was racist (or that she took sides with Adam).

In any case, the shooting stemmed from anger in the workplace—people not getting along and not having the social skills to work things out rather than make things worse. Adam’s quick trip to the station’s human resources department may indicate a lack of tolerance, as well as a tendency to escalate matters rather than patiently work them out. If Alison made demeaning racial statements to Flanagan, then perhaps her attitude may have been condescending and thus inherently conflictual. Of course, both Adam and Alison may have simply been reacting to extraordinarily bad treatment from Flanagan—his report to the EEOC being an effort to go on the offensive rather than admit that he had treated his coworkers very badly.

I suspect that at least part of the problem is societal—Americans may be been becoming more passive aggressive, and this anger in turn might be kicking the outright aggression up a notch in some people. The lack of tolerance for disagreements shows up in the ideological fragmentation of the American news networks, for example, with Fox News and MSNBC employees on the air brazenly displaying utter disdain for progressives and conservatives, respectively. Dismissiveness toward others, or in other words being “too cool to talk,” stemming from an abject lack of respect for others, may have been increasing at least in the Millennial Generation. As the sordid attitude becomes more socially acceptable as a social more in America, then increasing anger and ensuing aggression can be expected. “Road rage” is a case in point: an extreme hostility toward other people ruffling feathers. Why are so many Americans angry? This may be part of the reason why the U.S. has a disproportionate number of mass killings, and I suspect that the same holds for workplace (and former workplace) violence.

[1] Stan Ziv, “Study: Mass Shootings ‘Exceptionally American Problem’,” Newsweek, August 23, 2015.
[2] Dana Liebelson and Jessica Schulberg, “Shooting Suspect Sued Another Newsroom for Racism, Claimed He Was Called a Monkey,” The Huffington Post, August 26, 2015.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.